As you know, a requirements document us not just about new functionality. I'm sure you're familiar with non-functional requirements like performance and usability; however, there's another key section in any good requirements document–business processes. For any data solution to sustain, there must be a treatment of how the business' work practices will change. And with that, comes the requirement for the business and IT to align on what the business processes will look like. Enter BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation).

BPMN is probably the best tool you can use right now to document processes and other work practices–especially if your company has a process engine that's capable of understanding BPEL (Business Process Execution Language). Most business analysts would model business processes using standard flowcharting symbols and conventions; however, these methods are not sophisticated enough to represent detailed nuances, and this usually results in misalignment. Once realized, most business analysts compensate by inventing their own symbology and convention to fill in the blanks. This is the wrong path. BPMN is both detailed and standard, so it behooves you to look in this direction instead. Here are my key strategies for making it work in your organization.


Key Strategies for Deploying BPMN

Tip # 1: Learn BPMN inside out

It's important that you first become an expert in BPMN. This is pretty easy to do as it's a widely known and accepted standard that's managed and supported by the Object Management Group (OMG, the same group who manages the Unified Modeling Language). Aside from all the extensive information at OMG's website, there are several good books that have been published. The current version of BPMN is 2.0, which is a major release over version 1.2. Make sure you learn the latest version and keep up to date when updates are available.

Becoming an expert is not easy, but it's worth it. There's a lot to know–more than just symbology. You must be familiar with the rules of what can and cannot be done. Then there's best practices. You should be well versed in all things BPMN if you're going to advocate for it. It pays in dividends for a business analyst though, as BPMN is a well-known standard that is used worldwide. It's a good resume builder and the skills are transferable.


Tip # 2: Get sponsorship for implementing BPMN throughout your organization

To make BPMN work at your organization, it must be sold to both the business and IT. The symbology, the rules, the best practices–basically everything you've spent so much time learning–needs to be embraced by your organizational constituents. In many cases, this is not easy. And, unless you're a very high-ranking official at your company, it's a job for someone who's above your pay grade.

To pull this off, you must have a leader in high places that supports your cause. To that end, it's worthwhile to explore the business case for BPMN in your organization. You must be able to articulate–in no uncertain terms–why the organization should go through the effort of learning and adopting BPMN. There are some general reasons that we've already talked about (e.g., better alignment between the business and IT); however, you must make it more specific to your company. What is wrong with the way things are today? How would things be better if BPMN is adopted? Build your case now and enlist the help of your leadership to sponsor the effort from the top down.


Tip #3: Work with your IT department on business process automation

Another huge advantage to using BPMN is its ability to work with business process engines to automate process flow. This is where the specificity of BPMN pays off well. As you know, requirements for any type of technology must be precise and specific. Fortunately, for business process management, BPMN allows you to take it to this level and most likely convert your model to BPEL that's readily consumable by a business process engine. In this way, your organization can leverage technology for speed and accuracy of process management where possible, and synchronize humans and technology where it's not.

Selling this idea to IT should be a no-brainer. Business process engines live in the IT domain with other common technologies like UML. So IT is likely already familiar and enthusiastic about the idea of standing up a business process engine at your company. Furthermore, there are many available as open source and many more that can be purchased commercially (with support). Finally, although ideal, the adoption of BPMN by the business is not a hard condition for the technical implementation of a BPEL-ready process automation engine. As much as we'd like to have the business on board, there's no issue with using it as a backend technology to support business needs.



Business process management is another area where you can make a difference as a business analyst in your organization. If your requirements documents don't currently address the business processes that support the proposed functionality of your next data solution, then get that added right away! And when you do, consider BPMN as a way to bridge alignment between the business and IT. Become an expert yourself, and then become an advocate within your organization. And while you're at it, you'll become a better business analyst.


About the Author

John Weathington

John Weathington is President and CEO of Excellent Management Systems, Inc., a management consultancy that helps guide organizations to achieve strategic goals, improve critical processes, and leverage the power of information. For over 20 years, John has helped clients of all sizes including an impressive list of Fortune 100 firms to include Visa, PayPal (eBay), Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems, Hitachi Data Systems, Cisco, and Silicon Graphics. His unique blend of leadership, management, and technical talent and skills are a rare find in the consulting arena.

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